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Where The Spirits Dwell
The fact was this: nothing kept Shilo from leaving. The only door in the Wallace house that remained locked - or, at least, off-limits - was that which led to the basement. She had discovered (or re-discovered, perhaps, since how could a false fireplace escape her notice for her whole life? …The same way everything else had?) it a week after the Opera, when she finally found it in herself to move, even explore. What she found at the bottom of the staircase turned her stomach and undid at least fifty percent of the progress she thought she had made. And so, she left it alone. But that was it. Even all the windows had stayed open for a few days, before she realized the reason they needed to be kept shut had less to do with her ability to escape through them and more to do with the disgusting quality of the air hanging just outside them. Still, now, at least, she left them unlatched.In a perfect, fantasy world, maybe, she could simply crawl into her closet and be, without effort, whisked away to someone safe, magical, and far away from Sanitarium Island. There, she might have real tea with real rabbits, never wear a wig again, and - most importantly - be healthy. Or happy. Really, she would take either.Her world was not perfect, nor fantastic. The best she could hope for would be one, miraculous day when her heart stopped pounding itself into a panic when her fingers brushed the handle of the front door. The last two days, she kept her wrist communicator - previously disguarded, under her bed - strapped on so that the familiar chime of blood pressure warning! might snap her out of her all-too dangerous house-leaving mission before…well, before it killed her.But today would be different, she had already decided, to her own dismay, moments after she realized what she was doing. Today, she made the effort and discarded her nightgown for something that looked less like a child’s slip and more like a dress. She even wore a wig she hadn’t touched in ages - a dark one, with blunt bangs (something she insisted upon having after seeing the Tao of Mag concert) - to hide her face. It made her feel sneaky and invisible, something she loved. Years of practice made her an expert sneak and if she could escape a prison with her father-warden standing right outside her door, then moving, unnoticed, in a crowd full of people - who could probably care less for her or her anxieties or triumphs - would be nothing. Time to experiment with the living.She made it through the door and onto the front steps. In her boots, she teetered on the edge of the first. Impulsively glanced behind, just to be sure no men - or ghosts - would be chasing after her, screaming bloody murder and dragging her back inside, where it was “safe”. Deep, even breaths, Shilo. If she had an attack, there would be no “medicine” to relieve her, now. Deep. Even. Breath. Down the first step, then the next, and soon, the gate closed behind her.

The fact was this: nothing kept Shilo from leaving. The only door in the Wallace house that remained locked - or, at least, off-limits - was that which led to the basement. She had discovered (or re-discovered, perhaps, since how could a false fireplace escape her notice for her whole life? …The same way everything else had?) it a week after the Opera, when she finally found it in herself to move, even explore. What she found at the bottom of the staircase turned her stomach and undid at least fifty percent of the progress she thought she had made. And so, she left it alone. But that was it. Even all the windows had stayed open for a few days, before she realized the reason they needed to be kept shut had less to do with her ability to escape through them and more to do with the disgusting quality of the air hanging just outside them. Still, now, at least, she left them unlatched.

In a perfect, fantasy world, maybe, she could simply crawl into her closet and be, without effort, whisked away to someone safe, magical, and far away from Sanitarium Island. There, she might have real tea with real rabbits, never wear a wig again, and - most importantly - be healthy. Or happy. Really, she would take either.

Her world was not perfect, nor fantastic. The best she could hope for would be one, miraculous day when her heart stopped pounding itself into a panic when her fingers brushed the handle of the front door. The last two days, she kept her wrist communicator - previously disguarded, under her bed - strapped on so that the familiar chime of blood pressure warning! might snap her out of her all-too dangerous house-leaving mission before…well, before it killed her.

But today would be different, she had already decided, to her own dismay, moments after she realized what she was doing. Today, she made the effort and discarded her nightgown for something that looked less like a child’s slip and more like a dress. She even wore a wig she hadn’t touched in ages - a dark one, with blunt bangs (something she insisted upon having after seeing the Tao of Mag concert) - to hide her face. It made her feel sneaky and invisible, something she loved. Years of practice made her an expert sneak and if she could escape a prison with her father-warden standing right outside her door, then moving, unnoticed, in a crowd full of people - who could probably care less for her or her anxieties or triumphs - would be nothing. Time to experiment with the living.

She made it through the door and onto the front steps. In her boots, she teetered on the edge of the first. Impulsively glanced behind, just to be sure no men - or ghosts - would be chasing after her, screaming bloody murder and dragging her back inside, where it was “safe”. Deep, even breaths, Shilo. If she had an attack, there would be no “medicine” to relieve her, now. Deep. Even. Breath. Down the first step, then the next, and soon, the gate closed behind her.

Madame Leota.  Educated by gypsy mother and voodoo priest father in nothing but the occult.  Worked as a medium at the same carnival where George and Lilian met.  Used George as an opportunity to get to the Mansion, which she recognized as the most powerful spiritual hub in the South, possibly the world.  Played parts in the deaths of both George’s wives.  Mothered George’s only offspring, a daughter she named after herself.  Planned to trap George in her crystal ball and take the Mansion for herself but was undone by his suicide and trapped herself, by accident, instead.

Vivienne Tilton.  Museum curator.  Hired by the hoteliers to run the Mansion’s small, tourist-trap of a visitor’s center.  Used to run an alleged haunted historical home museum in Southern California.  Alarmingly and unsettlingly aware of her past life, but not as completely as she would like to have most believe.  Plans to use this, the Mansion, and all its guests to her advantage, at every turn.   

Lilian O’Malley Gracey.  First wife of George Jr.  Joined the circus as a tight-rope walker at fifteen to be with her “true love”, a performer who she followed the troupe, cross-country, in order to be with, only to find him dead, by the time she caught up.  Left carnival life for the Mansion, soon thereafter falling into a deep depression.  Never bore children.  Hated Madame Leota for stealing her husband’s attention and for birthing the Mansion’s only child, a daughter whose father was “unknown”, though often assumed to be George.  At a garden party in 1937, was tricked by “friends” Constance Hatchaway and Mme. Leota into performing her tight-rope routine over the alligator-infested river near the Mansion.  The frayed rope used snapped and she fell to her death.

Annemarie De Witte.  Troubled actress.  Suffers from anxiety disorders and, occasionally, bulimia.  Thrice divorced.  Impulsively quit current project to visit the Mansion.  Well-liked by most of her fellow guests, but has trouble forming meaningful attachments, despite her best attempts to maintain a friendly disposition.  Pointedly and overtly does not care for more than a few guests.   

George Gracey, Jr.  Last rightful owner of Gracey Mansion, acquired after his father’s murder.  Obsessed by the occult and the idea of using spiritual means to contact his deceased father.  Fell in love with and married circus performer Lilian O’Malley.  Met Madame Leota at the same carnival and promptly moved her, too, into the Mansion, as his personal medium and, eventually, mistress.  After Lilian’s death, married Constance Hatchaway.  Locked Constance in the attic and attempted to sever ties with Mme. Leota, later, claiming Lilian’s ghost had informed him of their part in her death.  Consumed by anger and grief, hung himself in 1943.

Alex Giselberhat.  Journalist/professional skeptic.  Hosts web series about debunking popular “haunted house” myths.  Sees stay at Mansion hotel as work, not play.  Has a remarkable sense of direction.  Natural leader.  Not fond, at all, of the cemetery.  Finds making friends an easy task, but is not quick to trust anyone.  Definitely a favourite among the female (and some male) guests of the hotel.      

haunted mansion: a ben interlude, as things start to heat up

Despite the return of the apology notecards from the management, Ben couldn’t be bothered to wait one more day to take a shower. In his experience, thus far, the cold spells came and went as they pleased, no matter what handymen the hotel brought in to take care of business. The temperature wasn’t such problem; the apartment building in Maine had frequently done something similar and, even if it hadn’t, he had been here long enough to get used to it. Cold water was fine. 

Brown water shooting at him from the showerhead, however, was definitely not. After nearly losing his balance trying to get away from it, Ben knew it was high time to give in and get out. Dirty splotches covered the formerly white bathmat he stepped onto and he knew what had to be done. Most of the drips could be prevented with a quick sweep of his towel, but his trunks would have to be wrung out if he wanted to avoid soiling his bedroom carpet. 

It shouldn’t have been a problem. “Weirdo,” he sneered at his reflection in the mirror. “You’re strange,” he told himself, but wouldn’t have, if he hadn’t finally confessed the habit to Evan, who, in turn, assured him it was definitely weird to wear swim trunks in the shower. “Stop being weird.” So he relinquished his hold on the sink bowl and shrugged the cloth off his shoulders so he could wrap it around his waist while he removed the offensive, soaked-with-dirty-water bathing suit.

The trunks dropped to the tiled floor with a wet plop! and, for five whole seconds, Ben thought he could breathe a little easier. But then, with absolutely no reason to, his spine emitted a sickeningly loud crack and something inside his stomach shifted. The hair on the back of his neck prickled, although he couldn’t know what was happening, this was the nameless Thing he had been terrfied of since childhood.

He gripped the sink with white knuckles. “The towel counts,” he whimpered. “It counts,” he insisted. But whatever was causing the shift of colour in his eyes seemed to disagree.

Before the sensation got any worse, he bent in half and yanked the swim trunks up around his waist again. No sooner had he tied them, he felt embarrassed. His stomach was in knots and, for the life of him, he didn’t know why. Standing erect, he made a face at himself in the mirror. “Very weird, you,” he told his reflection.

"Oh dear," he muttered, as the sound of a particularly large drop of liquid on tile startled him out of his silence. A mote-shaped puddle of brown water ran around his feet and the splatters seemed to be falling from his trunks. "That’s a mess. Suppose I’d better put on a shirt so I can take these off and wring them out."

Richard & Elma Belle.  Gracey Sr.’s younger sister, happily married to Belle in 1879.  He supported her artistic endeavours until his death in 1891.  Art became a means of income rather than a hobby, after that, for Elma.  Hard times forced her to move into the Mansion, which only fueled both her talents and eccentricities.  Richard returned to her, reincarnated as a raven, though no one believed the truth of it.  They adoped a stray wolf cub, who became their son, Daniel.  Elma’s last work was a ghastly portrait of her nephew, George Jr., completed on the day of her death in 1920, the same day as her son.  Despite attempts, Richard, as a raven, was never captured nor seen again. 

Harry Waldhramm.  Ex-pilot.  Enjoys keeping tabs on everyone at the Mansion hotel.  Prefers the graveyard to the building.  Refuses to sleep in a bed, but rather standing up or perched in an armchair.  Slight disdain for animals, especially birds, and revels in the joys of humanity.  Often butts heads with…

Rose McCrae.  Art history major who cannot draw to save her life.  Part-time animal rights activist.  Spends too much time studying the Mansion hotel’s portraits, to the point of feeling haunted by them.  Compulsively refuses almost anyone’s help.  Has developed a particular fondness for Ben, based on mutual preference for animals over humans. 

Constance Hatchaway-Gracey.  Black Widow Bride.  Married four times before meeting George Gracey Jr.  Plotted with Madame Leota to do away with Lilian, the first Mrs. Gracey.  Accidentally fell a little in love with George, but preferred his money.  Locked in the attic by George before she could strike, after he discovered her part in Lilian’s death.  Went mad and perished, days after George killed himself.  Died 1943.  Was the last to die in the Mansion until the 1970s.

Braedan Haywood.  LOL, wedding planner.  (That just occurred to me as hilarious.)  Claustrophobic and, to a much lesser extent, a little agoraphobic, as well.  Awkward fascination/obsession with pearls.  Terrified of relationship committment.  Skeptical of everything.  Prefers to be left alone, for fear of developing attachments and what might happen because of it.   

Noah Stevens.  Son of a madman, temporary owner of the Mansion.  Husband of Emily.  Lost most of his family to the Mansion, including his wife who was carrying on a ghostly affair with a dead pirate captain she had known in another life.  Shot himself in the head after discovering her body in a trunk, a week after a game of hide-and-seek took a turn for the worse.

Sam Montgomery.  New Orleans native.  Magician’s assistant, former ballerina, dance instructor.  Likes girls.  Definitely in love with a stripper she only “just met” at the beginning of this story.  Hates guns, loves swords.  Can hold her breath for over a minute.   

Daniel Belle.  George Gracey’s adoptive cousin.  REVERSE WEREWOLF.  Not really.  Biologically a wolf, though.  Can be a man when he dresses like one.  BFFs with Hellhound, George’s dog.  Was wrongfully blamed for Hellhound’s death and shot, as a wolf, by George.  Died 1920.

Ben Blevins.  Veterinarian.  Chocolate Fondue Fountain Lorax.  (I hope I’m not the only one who remembers that joke.)  Has a paralyzing fear of being naked and, thus, has refused to ever be completely so for most of his life.

necromerchant’s debt - prompt: closet

Shilo awoke to the sounds of a monster in her closet.

"Psst," it said.  "Shilo," it beckoned.  How it knew her name, she couldn’t connect, but it only had to call her twice before she found the nerve (or the nerve found her) to pull the covers back and approach the door.

Whether or not it had been open before she fell asleep, she couldn’t remember.  The dark crevice never bothered her.  Being afraid of any dark spaces, in this house, was a challenge, really.  Regarless of its previous state, the door was cracked now, and she had few qualms about nudging it open, the rest of the way.  ”Hello?” she asked, but didn’t reach for the light.

A pale, mishapen hand reached out of the abyss.  Shilo kept her tiny, pink lips pressed together, holding back any squeals she might otherwise have made, but took a step back as the monster in her closet pulled itself out, into the dim light that shone through her window from the moon.  On its hands and knees, it heaved and bled onto her floor.  She thought, momentarily, that it might collapse and die, right there, or at least go to sleep for a very long time, but it did neither.  It looked at her, vibrant blue piercing through the smudged, dark paint around its eyes.  …And smiled something that looked, to Shilo, the way a Big Bad Wolf might, if he was pretending to be a person instead of a wolf.

She wasn’t scared.

"I think my dad’s looking for you," she warned it, not quite defensively.

"I think you’d be right about that, kid," it responded, sounding remarkably like a man and not like a monster at at all.  "You gonna rat me out?"

Shilo shook her head and the monster smiled again.  ”Wouldn’t have asked if I thought you would,” it…he said.  ”Just wanted to know it, from you.  In that case, you wanna help me with something?”

Compulsively, Shilo looked over her shoulder to the bedroom door.  Half-expecting Daddy to come bursting through, at any moment.  If she could have put words to the concept, she would have felt a little like bait.  ”Okay,” she answered.

Instead of telling her what, just yet, he reached forward and pinched a strand of her wig between his index and middle finger, tugging it so it sat straight on her head again.  She flinched, but allowed him to do it.  He then presented the same hand to her.  His thumb hung limp, looked dead compared to the rest.  ”Grab that,” he instructed, “and hang on as tight as you can.  Okay?”

She clutched his thumb with both hands.

"Real tight?"

She nodded, he pulled and strangled a cry that sounded all too close to the one that had woken her up, earlier, but the digit popped back into its socket.  He didn’t move, so neither did she, and it felt like minutes had passed by the time he stopped breathing so heavily and showed her his face again.  ”Thank you, princess,” the monster said.  ”Can you help me…with one more thing?”

Not only could she, but she would and he allowed her to keep holding onto his thumb, painful though it must have been, while he continued.  ”You got a sewing kit in here?”

She shook her head.

"No?"

She shook her head again.

"…Glue?"

The action had become so familiar that he almost got another silent no except that the answer, as it turned out, was yes.  She gave him back his hand so she could root around in the drawer full of crayons and pins and blocks of wood and, ah.  Superglue.

Even in the dark, she could see where he needed it.  A thick, dark line cut down his pale, bare chest.  And it was leaking.  Without thinking too hard about it, she also brought him the crumpled nightgown that Daddy had gotten messy when he carried her away.

The monster chuckled and pressed the fabric to the gash.  ”Sorry,” he apologized and she knew he meant for her nightgown, but she couldn’t figure out why.  He took the glue to save her from doing his dirty work and used what Shilo thought might be half the bottle to patch up the hole in his chest.

"I got bandaids, too," she offered, once he was done.

"Think I could get one of those?"  For someone who had just un-broken a finger and patched himself closed, the monster looked very calm.  Pleased.  Human.

He didn’t need to ask, though, as Shilo went to a different drawer and produced a package of purple bandages, covered in butterflies.  That, he did allow her to put on for him.  Since the cut was so long, he even let her give him a second one.

"…Better?" she asked, but wouldn’t look at him.  Did you ask monsters things like that?  Daddy probably wouldn’t say.  She might never know.

"Much," the monster confirmed.  Not without struggle, he pulled himself to his feet and, after a brief steadying on one of her bed posts, took in her room.  Seemed to be particularly taken by the window.  "Lock it behind me, will you, princess?"

When she nodded, he bent down to kiss her through the top of her wig.  Then, he disappeared and she did as told.

Hours later, her father did return to check on her.  ”Are you awake, precious?”

"The monster was in my closet," she told him.

He scoffed, but hurried to check.  Not for her, she could tell.  For himself.  He found nothing, not even a drop of blood.  Nor would he, since she cleaned that up, too.  ”Just a nightmare, Shilo,” he tried to assure her.

No, she thought, rolling over so he couldn’t see her face anymore and leave her alone to sleep.  A good dream